I’m still not sure if I actually like Cultist Simulator, but I’m definitely fascinated by it. For now at least, I’ve finished reading Alexis Kennedy’s marvellous in-game words, but I’m not done reading about the game, and enjoying picking over Lottie Bevan’s retrospective on the game. She’s the other half of dev team Weather Factory, and there’s one bit in particular about how she and the publishers felt uneasy about there not being a tutorial – but “Alexis was dead set against it”. Here’s the full retrospective, which is packed with far too many interesting tit-bits for me to pick them all out here. In Bevan’s words, it contains the “top-line woos and boos of Cultist Simulator overall”, but I’m going to heartlessly skip to the boos seen as that’s where the juiciest stuff is:
“The most contentious decision of the whole project was whether to include a tutorial or not. Alexis was dead set against it: it was fundamentally at odds with Cultist’s design. Our publisher, myself and a bunch of beta testers worried that without a tutorial, people wouldn’t know what the hell was going on.
Alexis was right. Tutorials have been mentioned in almost every review of the game, but most of them say that they understand why there isn’t one, and approve of the decision.
But the testers, our publisher, and myself were right, too: there was a problem. We’d originally intended the last month of development to be spent adding additional Legacies into the game, but Alexis instead ended up having to go through the text to add clues. These breadcrumbs had to be obscure enough that they didn’t undermine the rest of the game’s design, but apparent enough to lead all players usefully from objective to objective.”
Speaking as someone who found himself repeatedly stumped and had to turn to the internet for a couple of answers, I found Bevan’s next words encouraging: “peeling back layers of mystery is a hallmark of an Alexis Kennedy game, so we’re liable to run into this problem again. We’ll see if we can do better next time, and definitely won’t try to fix it just one month before we release…”
I think a lot of my problems stemmed from the fact that I’m terrible at it, and small oversights (or worse, misfortune) lead to hours of progress being whisked away from me at the drop of a pesky detective’s hat. I adored Alexis Kennedy’s writing and loved the goal I was working towards – communing with and potentially becoming an eldritch being – but ‘working’ does capture a large part of what the path there felt like. It boiled down to plopping cards into slots, waiting out timers and trying to figure out new card/slot combinations.
That worked because Cult Sim is intentionally opaque, but failed for the exact same reason. It’s a balancing act where some players are inevitably going to fall off.
Elsewhere, Bevan mentions that the time constraint they put on themselves, while ultimately beneficial, did mean they had to leave some ideas on the occulting room floor: “we had to section off a bunch of great creative ideas for post-launch consideration.” As conflicted as I am about Cultist Simulator, I can definitely see myself booting it up again if and when those ideas make it into the game.
Here’s the link to the post again – do go check it out. I haven’t even mentioned Bevan’s thoughts on the dismaying impact of negative Steam reviews, or the pressure Kennedy felt under after his success at Failbetter Games.